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Use mind not force.

- Master Yang Chengfu


theory: a systematically organized body of knowledge that is applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances; particularly a system of assumptions, accepted principles and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict or otherwise explain the nature and behavior of a specified set of phenomena. (American Heritage Medical Dictionary)


By this definition then, "Tai Chi Theory" is the systematically organized body of knowledge that has been developing throughout the history of China as a way of analyzing, predicting, and otherwise explaining both the nature and behavior of the phenomenon known as natural change. It is explicitly expressed through the practice of the martial art Tai Chi Chuan though that is by no means its only application. As the core cosmological principle of both Daoist and Confucian thought it has played a considerable role in the development of nearly all aspects of Chinese culture. However its most significant and enduring application has always been in the field of health, healing, and personal transformation where it still endures to this day as the underlying theoretical framework of Chinese Medicine and all of its associated body-mind-spirit technologies: acupuncture, herbalism, tuina, moxibustion, shiatsu, reiki, qigong, neigong, daoyin, yangshen, meditation, martial arts, internal alchemy (neidan), divination, fortune-telling, fengshui, teaism and so on.

One of the foundational premises in Tai Chi theory is that the interior is the mother of the exterior. This of course implies that the source of life lies within and it is for this reason that Tai Chi theory has spawned a very large assortment of personal cultivation and self-healing practices over the centuries. These practices are as diverse as the peoples and cultures that have curated them, but regardless of the complexity in their external variations they all are ultimately bound together by their underlying theoretical basis in the dao of yin and yang, or Tai Chi. So whether it's in the context of the more secular Confucian practices of improving oneself through the pursuit of education and the virtues of personal conduct, or in that of the more sacred Daoist practices of ritual purification and deep communion with the mystery of nature, Tai Chi theory reliably and unequivocally provides the plumbline and balancing scale. Similarly, whether applied artistically such as in poetry, painting and music, or more scientifically as in medicine, engineering and astronomy, again Tai Chi theory readily supplies the methodological framework and structure. In all fields of human endeavor, wherever one is attempting to understand and cooperate with the natural complexity of living things without losing grasp of their essential underlying integrity, Tai Chi theory remains an invaluable tool.



Exposition on Theory and Practice in Tai Chi
by Master Yang Banhou, c.1875

Principle is the underlying substance of essence, energy, and spirit. Essence, energy, and spirit is the underlying substance of the body. The body is developed through the application of the mind. Power is developed through the application of the body. The mind and the body are both ultimately ruled by a singular principle. Essence, energy, and spirit are all ultimately ruled by sincere intentions.

Being authentic and sincere is the way of the sky. Becoming authentic and sincere is the way of humankind. Not even for a single moment should the thoughts be allowed to wander from this authenticity. It absolutely must be recognized that the sky and humankind both consist of the very same underlying principle.

Just as it is the energy of the sun and moon that fuels the fluid circulation of the natural world, so it is the energy of the intentions that fuels the fluid circulation of the essential spirit along the subtly concealed pathways of natural principle. Thus it can be said that from the martial comes the civil and from wisdom comes spirituality. From the perspective of the martial arts what is most important is the functioning of the mind and body and the development of power. This is primarily accomplished by continuously returning to the root of the dao and cannot be attained solely as the result of physical training.

Power comes from the tendons and strength comes from the bones. The kind of strength that enables the lifting and holding of heavy objects is generated through the external conditioning of the physical frame and is a firm and hard kind of strength. But there is another kind of strength that comes from keeping the underlying substance in tact and is generated from the essential energy of internal vigor. It is a kind of skill. It does not express in the body as muscular mass and appears incapable of exerting even the slightest force. But once developed, this skill is capable of generating a firmness and hardness that spontaneously and randomly appears in the most marvelous of ways. It is only through the nurturing of the body and the cultivation of its underlying substance that such a dao can be attained.


The Tai Chi Symbol


all translations by Christopher Kiely
(in PDF format)

Giving (Qian), Chapter 1 of the Yi Jing
Receiving (Kun), Chapter 2 of the Yi Jing

Yin and Yang in the Yijing

Tai Chi and Change: the Heart of the Great Treatise
from the Fifth Wing of the Yi Jing (Chapter 11-12)

Record of the Joining of Similars (Can Tong Qi), Chapter 1-3

Laozi's Way of Virtue Classic (Dao De Jing), Chapters 1-9

Confucius's Analects (excerpts)

Sunzi's Art of War (excerpts)

Zhuangzi, Chapter 1 (Free and Easy Wandering)
Zhuangzi, Chapter 7.5 (Master Hu and the Ninefold Abyss)
Zhuangzi, Chapter 30 (A Story of Swords)

Rugged Uncle's Longevity Method
(from Chapter 1 of the Huangdi Neijing)

Tai Chi Map (Before and After the Sky)

The Yang Family's "Forty Verses" on Tai Chi Chuan (Verses 1-12)




Exposition on Civil and
Martial in Tai Chi

by Master Yang Banhou, c.1875

The “civil” refers to the underlying substance. The “martial” refers to how this substance is applied. The civility underlying every martial application is nothing other than essence, energy and spirit. This is the underlying substance of the cultivation arts. The militancy that develops this civil substance is nothing other than the body and mind. This is the discipline of the martial arts.

When it comes to the “firing times” of internal alchemy, balancing the civil and the martial refers to knowing the proper timing for reeling the breath in and letting it out. The timing must be just right for the elixir to form. This is the root of the cultivation arts. While in the context of facing an opponent, balancing the civil and the martial refers to knowing when to store the power and when to release it. This is the foundation of the martial arts.

This is why the civil qualities of softness and gentleness are the underlying substance of training in the martial arts. It is the essence, energy and spirit that are the very muscle of internal power and enable the martial qualities of firmness and hardness to spontaneously manifest throughout the core strength of the body and mind.

Having civility without martial preparedness is like having the substance but without a means of employing it. Having militancy without civil accompaniment is like having the means for employing but with nothing to employ. A solitary pole is difficult to balance upright and a single hand cannot clap. This principle not only pertains to the work of nurturing the underlying substance of the martial arts. It pertains to all things.

Thus the civil is the internal principle and the martial is the external technique. External technique without civil principle will indeed empower a certain boldness of the qi and blood, yet whenever facing an opponent of dubious and deceptive means, this boldness will inevitably get one into trouble. On the other hand, civil principles without external techniques will indeed engender one to the school of peace and tranquility, yet not knowing how to respond to conflict will inevitably lead one to miscalculate one's position and inadvertently invite catastrophe. Thus in regard to the work of humankind how could these two words, civil and martial, not be carefully explained and considered?


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